About six years ago, I came to a life-altering decision.
I was sick and tired of being…well…sick and tired.
Unable to sleep through the entire night because of fears of things left undone, unsaid, or forgotten, I’d drag myself through my days fueled by cup after cup of black coffee. My routine was to work 8 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m., go home and cook dinner, kiss my husband, tuck my little girl into bed, grab my computer and work until midnight. I was so stressed out I didn’t even know I was stressed out. But to me it seemed “normal.”
This went on for years. Until the day my mother died at age 64.
Funny how something so profound can change the entire way you view the world. I decided life was way too short to spend it stressed out. I became a student of stress management strategies and used them to eventually heal myself.
Many of us live lives full of stress – from the moment we get up, to the time we go to bed (and just lay there staring at the ceiling).
Although we’d like to think stress simply resides in our minds, the fact is that stressful thoughts do damage to our bodies. Experts agree that stress is a factor in hundreds of diseases and illnesses – everything from strokes to Alzheimer’s to obesity can be caused or acerbated by stress.
Does any of this sound familiar? If so, then it’s time to take back your life like I did. I’d like to share some of the stress management strategies I use and continue to use every day.
Find the Root Cause.
Managing the stress in your life starts first with identifying the sources of your stress. Some things are probably pretty easy to figure out – like unreasonable deadlines, or the death of someone close to you. Other things may not be so obvious and you may need to do some self-introspection to figure it out.
One thing to remember is that living in constant stress is not a normal state of being. In order to determine the sources of your stress, examine your habits, attitudes, and the excuses you make. Are you always making excuses to your spouse for having to work late? Do blame other people or events for your stress? These could be places to analyze as potential stressors.
Once you identify your stressors, you must then work to eliminate those stressors, or at least make them more manageable. The following tips should help you with this task.
I have a rule I live by, and I encourage those I mentor to live by it as well. The rule is this:
Do what you most don’t want to do first.
It may not be the end-all cure for your procrastination, but it sure as heck will knock a dent in it. That’s because a lot of procrastination stems from the fact that we put off the things we dread. The more we dread it, the more we put it off. It’s human nature. However, by making a habit of doing the dreaded deed first, you set yourself free. You will start thinking of yourself as someone who can and will get things done. Soon your procrastination days will be over.
Minus the Mess.
Whether you believe it or not, cluttered, disorganized surroundings affect your mental state. Physical clutter reminds us – often subconsciously – that things need to be done that aren’t getting done, and that causes us more stress.
I have a close friend who recently decided to start clearing the clutter out of his life, and getting organized. He started with his office, throwing away, organizing – he saw surfaces he hadn’t seen in years! After he tackled this, he started on his garage. The more clutter he threw out and organized, the lighter his stress level and the clearer his thought patterns became. When you remove the physical clutter and you’ll eliminate the mental clutter, lowering your stress and raising your energy.
Experts agree that people who believe in a power beyond themselves are generally less stressed. Attending church, fellowshipping with others of like faith, and nurturing one’s spiritual side have a calming and soothing effect on our minds.
Practice Extreme Self-Care.
It took me a while to figure out that unless I took care of myself, there would be little left of me to take care of others. Many people feel selfish when they start putting their needs ahead of others, but believe me, you have to do it.
Some of the things you must do to practice self-care from a physical standpoint include exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, reducing caffeine and sugar, increasing your intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean meats. One other thing…you must get enough sleep! People who don’t get enough sleep not only increase their stress levels, but studies show they decease their life expectancy.
Just as important as practicing physical self-care is practicing spiritual/emotional self-care. While the first feeds your body, the latter feeds your soul. Start by identifying five things you enjoy doing, but rarely get a chance to do. For example, my list would include reading a good book, going to a yoga class, getting a manicure, watching a great old movie, visiting my favorite coffee shop. Once you identify your top five (you can have more if you wish!), begin scheduling them into your daily calendar. It may be tough to carve out the time at first…you may need to start with one per week and work your way up. You’ll be surprised at how pampering yourself can make you feel cared for and less stressed.
Reframe the situation.
Much like reframing an old picture can give it new life, so can reframing the situations that cause us stress.
According to Dr. Don Colbert, author of The Seven Pillars of Health, the term reframing means learning to see the past, present and future in a positive light. It goes beyond “positive thinking,” however.
Reframing is a concept pioneered by psychologist Albert Ellis to help patients replace irrational thoughts with rational, realistic statements. Reframing calls upon a person to shift his focus away from his present point of view in order to “see” another person or situation from a different perspective. When negative thoughts pop up, Colbert and Ellis maintain that we should challenge and assess them, never accepting them at face value.
Do you ever find yourself dwelling on negative situations or thoughts? I know I did! Once I started reframing the situation from a positive slant, I no longer felt the need to relive those thoughts over and over in my head.
For example, instead of dwelling on the fact that you wrecked the car, reframe the situation by being thankful you weren’t hurt. Nearly every situation – even the most traumatic ones – can be reframed. This may sound simplistic, but by mastering the technique, you will get rid of a lot of unnecessary stress.
When we get stressed, we tend to breathe more quickly and shallowly. In turn, this causes us to become even more stressed. One way to counteract this is to take slow, deep, fulfilling breaths. Start by sitting up straight. Breathing through your nose, inhale from your stomach, allowing your breath to expand your stomach and move up through your lungs. Exhale in the opposite direction, letting the air flow through your nose from your lungs until your stomach is flattened and your lungs are emptied. As you inhale, inhale relaxation. As you exhale, exhale stress and tension. This works even better if you combine it with the Minute Meditation below:
Meditate for a Minute.
You don’t have to cultivate a long meditation practice to reap the benefits. Even a short, focused 60-second meditation can help de-stress your body and your mind. That’s because taking a moment to quiet your mind stops the forward momentum of anxiety and nervousness that can so quickly get away from us.
Three easy steps: 1) Relax. Scan your body and release any tight muscles, especially those muscles in your jaw, shoulders, and neck. Start from the top of your head and work your way down, releasing the muscles as you go. When you’re through, start your 60-second meditation by 2) Focusing your attention completely on each breath, each inhalation and exhalation. When your mind wanders, bring it back to your breathing. Do this for one minute and 3) Wrap up by returning to awareness of your body and surroundings. Take one last deep breath and wiggle your fingers and toes, refreshed and ready.
I do this several times through out the day, especially when I need to jump-start my creative thought. I find regular practice works wonders for both my stress level and productivity.
The ultimate goal, of course, is to lead a balanced life, with time to do everything that is important to us – plus have the necessary energy to meet challenges and achieve our goals. Stress steals our joy, our peace of mind, and our dreams. My hope is that you use these stress management strategies to help you find balance and peace in your life.
Copyright 2009, BusinessBurrito.com. All rights reserved.
Donna Williams is the founder and creator of BusinessBurrito.com – a website dedicated to helping small businesses grow to their maximum potential. She is also a 25-year advertising / marketing executive, creative director, writer, and producer. Together, Donna and her husband currently own and co-own five small businesses. To read more of her articles, or to sign up for her free weekly e-newsletter, visit her website at www.businessburrito.com